NEW: Locate Your Loved One

Burial in a shroud (Tachrichim).

According to most historical sources, this tradition dates back to Rabbi Simeon ben Gamliel II, president of the great Sanhedrin, at a time not long after the destruction of the second temple.

"Formerly, the expense of carrying out the dead was harder on the family than the death itself; the family therefore abandoned the corpse and fled. [This practice changed when] Rabban Gamliel [President of the Sanhedrin] disregarded his own dignity, and had his body carried out in flaxen shrouds. Afterwards, his students, and others followed his lead and had themselves carried out in flaxen shrouds."

Babylonian Talmud, Moed Katan 27a-27b

It should be noted that today, some Rabbi's allow the deceased to be buried in their clothes to comply with family wishes.

Rabbi Zemel of Temple Micah tells of the tradition of standing at a Shiva service.

At a recent shiva service in Potomac, the Rabbi told the following story about Rabbi Zemel.

"Rabbi Zemel noticed that all the people were standing and it reminded him of his officiating the first time at a shiva service. He went to a home in an area of Chicago much like Potomac, MD and there everyone was sitting comfortably on the couch or on lounge chairs. When he returned to the synagogue, he asked his boss how come everyone was seated. His boss told him as his first assignment he could research this. Rabbi Zemel then told of how in the olden days peoples homes were very small and in order to hold a shiva service in ones home the women would leave and the men would crowd into the home and in order to fit they would stand, thus the tradition to stand at a service started."

Rabbi Jonathan Maltzman of Kol Shalom Congregation relates the story of the Tradition of "Why Stones are Placed on the Grave."

Why do we place stones on a grave? For most of us stones conjure a harsh image. It does not seem the appropriate memorial for one who had died. But stones have a special character in Judaism; in the Bible an altar is no more than a pile of stones, but it is on an altar that one offers to G-d.

The stone of which Abraham takes his son to be sacrificed is even called "hashtuyal", "the foundation stone of the world." the sacred shrine in Judaism, after all, is the pile of stones - the wall of the second Temple.

In the words of the popular Israeli song "There are men with hearts of stone, and stone with the hearts of men."

So why place stones on the grave? The explanations vary from superstitious to poignant. The superstitious rationale for stones is that they keep the soul down. There is a belief, with roots in the Talmud, that souls continue to dwell for a while in graves in which they are placed. The grave, called a "beit olam," (a "permanent house") was thought to retain some aspect of the departed soul; means by which the living help the dead to "stay put". Even souls which are benign in life can, in the folk imagination, take on a certain terror in death. The "barrier" on the grave prevents the kind of haunting that formed such an important part of the Eastern European lore. The story of I.B. Singer and the plays of Yiddish Theatre are rich in the mythology of Eastern European Jewry; souls who returned for whatever reason to the world of the living. One explanation of stones on the grave is to ensure that souls remain where they belong.

NEXT: Judean Memorial Gardens Photo Tour


Burial in a Shroud
Standing at a Shiva Service
Why Stones are Placed on the Grave